A poignant story in the New York Times about a well-known Little Rock family:
In more normal times, Scott Green , a lifelong civil rights activist, may have had a ceremonious funeral followed by a burial in a military cemetery in Little Rock, Ark.
Mr. Green was one of the students known as the Lost Class of 1959 at Central High School, where a battle over forced desegregation in Little Rock helped propel the civil rights movement. After he died in April at age 76 with symptoms of Covid-19 in Manhattan, former President Bill Clinton called Mr. Green’s family to extend his condolences.
At the time, New York City was experiencing its deadliest stretch of the pandemic; hundreds of deaths per day from the coronavirus were overwhelming city morgues and hospitals, and causing weeks of backlogs at funeral homes and cemeteries. Mr. Green’s relatives had difficulty finding a funeral director available to recover his body from the city morgue, and could not give him the funeral they had wanted.
With a mixture of reluctance and relief, the Green family decided on a public burial on Hart Island, which would inter his body in one of the mass, unmarked graves dug by city jail inmates and overseen by armed guards. It was a last resort, an expedient, if perfunctory, way to bury loved ones instead of having their bodies languish in refrigerated trucks with scores of others.
Scott Green’s older brother is Ernest Green, one of the Little Rock Nine and the first Black graduate of Central in 1958. He spoke with the reporter for a broader article about the city’s public burials, at a high since the AIDS epidemic. There were 415 burials the week when Scott Green died, compared with a pre-pandemic average of about 20.
It was not easy for Mr. Green’s family to embrace a public burial, which involves being placed by morgue workers in a pine box and taken by truck and ferry to the island.
Mr. Green’s body was stacked with scores of others’ in a crowded, muddy trench between two abandoned prison buildings, without a headstone.
Mr. Green’s sister, Treopia G. Washington, called the decision to have a public burial a disappointing but “common sense” one.
“I had heard of the potter’s field in New York, and, of course, it was not a very positive remembrance,” said Ms. Washington, who served as an appointee under the Clinton administration. “But we just felt there was nothing else we could do.”
When schools were closed in 1958-59, Scott Green moved to California and joined the Air Force. He worked with Ernest Gree in New York to recruit people of color to join building trades unions, the article recounts. Scott Green was the first Black trainee of the Sheet Metal Workers local union and continued to fight racial discrimination as he worked on major projects including the World Trade Center, Ernest Green told the Times. He lived in Harlem and died on Easter Sunday. Scott Green Jr. told the Times the austere burial was fitting in its way for his father.
It “really reflected who my father was,” the son said. “He was a common kind of guy.”